SPACE - Preparing for future shocks: priority actions for social protection practitioners in the wake of covid-19 (September 2020)

Manual and Guideline
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The purpose of this brief is to help social protection actors think through potential options/strategies to strengthen the preparedness of social protection systems to respondto future shocks. The responses to COVID-19 have highlighted the stark limitations of many social protection systems, particularly with regard to the three core tenets of universal social protection: ‘coverage’, ‘adequacy’, and ‘comprehensiveness’, as well as a fourth dimension of ‘timeliness’. 2 For example, expanding coverage to those in need has been both complex and slow in many countries (partly due to low coverage before the crisis and weak administrative systems), while the adequacy of benefits has often been limited due to trade-offs against coverage and a lack of sufficient(and swift)funding.

It is clear that ‘business as usual’ social protection is not an option going forwards, given the increasing frequency, magnitude, and intensity of shocks. Social protection has a role to play in managing risk and reducing poverty, vulnerability and exclusion – no matter how these are ‘generated’. International evidence indicates that the confluence of three key factors enables more effective shock responsive social protection systems: (i) political will and decision-making; (ii) preparedness actions, including making social protection systems more adaptive and risk-informed; and (iii) adequate funds. This brief focuses on the second of these factors – while touching on the third – and provides guidance on the various channels through which a social protection system can be better prepared to respond to shocks.

Ultimately, now is the time to build on collective learning, failures and momentum: never before had the role of social protection in shock response been so universally accepted and endorsed. ‘Preparedness’ in practice requires strategic actions on several fronts to make a social protection system more shock responsive, but it does not necessarily involve radical shifts in the way we do things. While substantial investments in preparedness will commonly yield higher returns, small incremental adjustments may still be highly effective. For instance, as this brief emphasises, minor changes to the systems and programmes that underpin routine social protection can make these more ‘risk-informed’. Further adaptations can subsequently be made for emergency programming.
Ultimately, a stronger and more risk-informed routine social protection system is easier to build on for shock response.